MANASSEH’S FOLDER: Tramadol-like propaganda and maize shortage

MANASSEH’S FOLDER: Tramadol-like propaganda and maize shortage
Source: Ghana| Manasseh Azure Awuni
Date: 11-05-2018 Time: 05:05:06:pm
Agric Minister, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto

Back in Krachi Senior High School, I studied Business. And Economics was one of my favourite subjects. One could not study senior high school Economics without knowing about demand and supply and how the interplay of these market forces drives prices.

Mr. Peter Alorwordor of blessed memory and Mr. Hubert Nuworza (Sir Lord Chaser) helped me to understand that when a commodity is in abundance and supply exceeds demand, prices are bound to fall. Of course, with all other things being equal! On the other hand, when there is scarcity, prices rise because more people will be competing for fewer goods, and since suppliers are not running charities in the market, they raise the prices to make more profit. I know there are a few exceptions, but when it comes to the foodstuffs market in Ghana, demand and supply are almost the only drivers of prices.

Anytime there is a bumper harvest, foodstuffs in Ghana sell cheaply. We don’t process our raw materials and foodstuffs into long lasting products. So when the produce is in season, farmers have to reduce prices. Prices only shoot up when the product is scarce. That is the situation in Ghana now with maize.

Poultry farmers across the country are crying over the shortage of maize. They say the product is difficult to come by. Besides, they say the prices have broken all of Ussain Bolt’s Olympics records and have set new records that can only be broken by computer games. In fact, the farmers are worried that their birds may starve.

‘If I don’t get maize for my 150,000 birds, they will die,” the Brong Ahafo regional chairman of the Poultry Farmers Association told Joy News Thursday. He pointed to a 66% increase in the price of a 50kg bag of maize since April 2018. We are in May 2018. Joy News’ Hashmin Mohammed, who went to the market in Tamale to survey prices, also reported serious hikes in the price of maize. The predominantly Muslim population in the region are worried that in the month of Ramadan, they will suffer because maize meals are the main staples of the people there.

On the same Joy FM News, however, a Deputy Minister of Agriculture, George Oduro, was sweating over an explanation that is extremely alien to common sense, one that is at logger heads with economic logic. He agreed that the prices were rising. But he argued that it was not because of shortage. How possible? He said government had contracted buffer stock companies to buy the product from farmers so they were competing with other supplies and that’s why the prices were going up.

This explanation does not make sense for this simple reason: The harvests were made mainly in the third quarter of 2017. This was the time the farmers harvested and were selling to wholesalers and other suppliers. If there was a time buffer stock companies would compete with ordinary buyers, then that should be the time of harvest, not now. We are heading for another harvest season and if there was grain, this is the time the buffer stock companies and everybody with last season’s maize would want to sell. New maize will soon emerge and no sensible trader would be hoarding maize now. So that explanation is illogical. There is shortage. The maize traders and poultry farmers are speaking the truth. The agric ministry is lying!

The Vice-President of the Poultry Farmers Association of Ghana, Napoleon Agyemang Oduro, said the deputy minister’s explanation was a confirmation of the shortage he had tried to deny.

“The price is high because we can’t find the product in the market, and this is a shortage,” he said on Joy FM.

“It is becoming extremely difficult to get maize”, he said, and indicated they were prepared to buy even at high prices if the commodity was available.

“The bird is not waiting for you to go and look for maize,” he said to drum home the desperate need to buy maize.

The government has found itself in this mess because of the Tramadol-like propaganda it has tried to sustain in the agric sector. Why Tramadol? Currently, Tramadol abuse is threatening the sanity of the nation’s youth. Its users say they “get high.” They are numb to happenings around them, even pain to their bodies. Well, Tramadol is a painkiller.

In the same way, the Minister of Agric and his team have been numb to the realities of the agric sector for the past year.

When farmers, mainly maize farmers, said the fall army worm invasion was still destroying their crops, the agric ministry insisted it had dealt with the situation. When the farmers were seen using washing detergent to spray their farms, the ministry said there was more than enough chemical available to deal with the problem.

When we thought we had heard enough from the agric ministry, the most ridiculous political propaganda in modern times hit our nation. The Agriculture Minister, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, after eating a heavy bowl of fufu and topping up with sobolo and asana, rubbed his belly, belched loudly and announced that the Planting for Food and Jobs Programme had created more than 750,000 jobs. That information sounded funny. But it is also offensive. It is offensive if the politician looks at you and thinks you are stupid to enough to accept anything they tell you. The most shocking thing is that this figure has found its way into the government’s employment statistics.

This number means within the six months when this programme started, it created more jobs than all the workers on government’s payroll, from nurses to teachers, the security forces and all the civil and public servants.

When we asked for evidence, the minister did not have any.

In the 2017 budget, the government earmarked GHȻ560 million or $124.4 million for the Planting for Food and Jobs Programme. The government said the programme was expected to create over 70, 000 jobs. Note that the government would often exaggerate in matters such as this. So how did the ministry get the 750,000 jobs from?

Under the Planting for Food and Jobs Programme, the ministry distributed fertilizer and farm inputs to farmers. Officials of the agric ministry then sat in an air-conditioned office, perhaps with sweaty bottles of beer, and did weird mathematics. The ministry imagined than an x number of fertiliser bags given to a farmer would cause the farmer to cultivate a y number of acres or hectares. To cultivate that amount of land, the farmer needs to engage z number of farm hands. So to get the number of jobs created, they multiplied x by y, and multiply the result by z. These are geniuses!

They have not been able to tell us whether the mostly peasant farmers who got these fertilizers were unemployed at the time they got the help. Or were all the expected additional farm hands engaged taken from the jobless youth in the streets and given jobs? They have also not factored in the hundreds of bags of fertilizer and farm inputs that get stolen when the government starts any programme.

But the agric ministry was not done yet. Not long afterwards, we heard stories that there was bumper harvest of maize, which was the main beneficiary crop of the Planting for Food and Jobs. Programme

Mr. Minister, Ayeeko! You are the Lee Kuan Yew Ghanaians are craving for!

But you forgot one thing. Our elders have warned us that when your mother is dead and you say she is asleep, you will be exposed when hunger stirs your stomach. That hunger has stirred sooner than you probably thought. The best way to have measured the success of the Planting for Food and Jobs Programme would have been the output of the farming season. Unfortunately, that has been negative.

The national vice-president of poultry farmers said yesterday on Joy FM that you had granted special permits for the importation of maize. And that has convinced me that you deserve a prize higher and more prestigious than the Nobel Peace Prize.

A minister of state in Ghana who leads in the creation of more than 750,000 jobs in about six months, announces bumper harvest of the main commodity produced by those who got the jobs and eventually grants permits for the importation of the same commodity definitely deserves a seat besides Oboade the Almighty. But for the fear of being accused of blasphemy, I would have said you deserve to be elevated above God!

The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. He is the author of two books, “Voice of Conscience” and “Letters to My Future Wife”.  His email address is azureachebe2@yahoo.com. The views expressed in this article are his personal opinions and do not reflect, in any form or shape, those of The Multimedia Group, where he works.

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